On Veterans Day at 9:56 AM EST, the Falcon 9’s nine main engines thundered to life at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Onboard were 60 Starlink Internet Relay satellites that SpaceX plans to deploy in a planned constellation of thousands that will provide broadband service around the world.
Two and a half minutes after liftoff, the first stage shut down, fell away and was off for an offshore recovery ship while the 2nd stage continued to push to orbit before the two halves of the nose cone fairing were jettisoned about a minute later.
The first stage then reappeared into the lower atmosphere, fired up its central engine and deployed its four landing legs. It then settled to an on-target touchdown on the “Of course I Still Love You” drone ship which was about several hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral. This has become a familiar sight for SpaceX.
The second stage and its satellite payload reached its initial orbit a few seconds later. The 60 solar-powered Starlink satellites are set to be released into a 174 mile-high orbit. They will be boosted into their operational positions using onboard ion thrusters.
The Falcon 9’s first stage was making a record 4th flight after 2 missions in 2018 and one earlier this year. SpaceX also set a record for its nose cone protecting the Starlink satellites and their deployer during the climb out of the lower atmosphere after it made its 2nd flight after the April launch atop the Falcon Heavy Rocket.
SpaceX launched 60 satellites in May, with another 4 batches planned for next year which will bring the total to 360 satellites by 2020 and these are capable of providing coverage to the USA and Canada. SpaceX plans a further 24 launches, more than 1,400 satellites to provide global coverage starting in 2021.
SpaceX founder and CEO, Elon Musk said that SpaceX is designed to provide “high bandwidth, low latency connectivity, ideally throughout the world. This would provide connectivity to people that don’t have any connectivity today or where it is extremely expensive and unreliable.”